Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located outside Dayton, Ohio, is the home of the oldest and largest ceiling recycling program of any military base in the country. Since it initiated the program seven years ago, the base has recycled more than 1.3 million-ft2 of old ceiling tiles, or the equivalent of 195 Dumpsters full of construction waste that would have otherwise been taken to local landfills.

By doing so, the base is fulfilling its commitment to environmental stewardship by removing as much material as possible from the solid waste stream and cutting costs by eliminating the expenses normally associated with the collection, transportation and disposal of discarded ceiling tiles.

Began as Demonstration
Wright-Patterson began reclaiming ceilings in November 2003 as part of a demonstration project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The objective was to recycle and reutilize as much material as possible from the demolition of a 178,000-ft2 training facility. The project resulted in 82 percent of the overall demolition debris being diverted from the solid waste stream. In recognition of that effort, Wright-Patterson received the MVP2 Project/Program Award from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable in 2004. A key component of that effort was the recycling of ceiling tiles.

The base’s Environmental Management Division first learned of ceiling recycling when one of its scientists read about a program conducted by Armstrong Ceilings. The division contacted the company, which sent a representative to explain the process. The representative was then put in contact with the demolition contractor, and the initial ceiling recycling effort was underway.

Now Standard Procedure
Nearly 128,000-ft2 of old ceiling tiles were removed and recycled as part of the initial project. More importantly, however, the environmental and cost-saving benefits resulting from the project led to an expansion of the program to the point where ceiling recycling is now standard procedure for all renovation and demolition projects on the base.

As such, it has also become a key component of the base’s Pollution Protection Program, which includes such elements as solid waste diversion, green procurement and the use of recycled content products and environmentally-friendly chemicals.

The program has always sought alternatives to the status quo, and, because it saves so much landfill space, the recycling of old ceiling tiles is now a major component of the program.

Alternative to Landfill
The Armstrong Ceiling recycling program enables building owners to ship mineral fiber and fiberglass ceiling tiles from demolition or renovation projects to one of its ceiling plants as an alternative to landfill disposal. Under the program, the company pays the freight costs for shipping the ceilings to its closest plant. The old ceilings then become part of a closed-loop process in which they are used to manufacture new ceilings. Since it introduced the program in 1999, the company has recycled more than 100-million-ft2 of discarded ceiling tiles.

Five-Step Process
The process for recycling old ceilings involves five steps. First, provisions for ceiling recycling should be included in the project specifications or construction waste management plan. Building owners then need to register the ceiling recycling project with the Armstrong Recycling Center. Next, owners must verify that their old ceiling tiles can be recycled by reviewing building and material requirements with the Armstrong Recycling Center. Following verification, owners or contractors must stack the old ceiling tiles on pallets and shrink-wrap or tightly band them for pickup.

At Wright-Patterson, the base supplied pallets and shrink wrap to the contractor, which removed the old ceilings and stacked and wrapped them. The base has converted a portion of a storage building into a staging area for the discarded ceiling tiles.

Lastly, once there is a full trailer load of old ceilings, the owner or contractor simply contacts Armstrong, which arranges for a truck to pick up the material and transfer it to its nearest manufacturing facility. The company pays the return freight costs, resulting in further cost savings. In the case of less-than-truckload quantities, the company has a network of consolidators who pick up the tiles and store them at their facilities until a trailer load is ready for shipment.

Getting Started
Those considering initiating a ceiling recycling program must first convince base management and the contractor that it is environmentally worthwhile, economically cost effective and can be implemented successfully. From an environmental point of view, such programs are definitely worthwhile. Not only do they save valuable landfill space, but because the old ceilings are used to manufacture new ceilings, less natural resources, less energy and less water are required during the production process.

From an economic point of view, studies have shown that the process of recycling used ceilings is nearly as fast as dumping them, so the program has little, if any, adverse impact on construction schedules. Studies have also shown it can be less costly than dumping because it eliminates tipping fees, Dumpster costs and expenses associated with transportation to the landfill. As an example, the base saved nearly $4,800 in solid waste transportation and disposal fees alone as part of the initial ceiling recycling project.

Keys to Success
One of the key elements to its success of Wright-Patterson’s ceiling recycling program has been awareness. For example, the base conducts internal ceiling recycling training sessions for Wright-Patterson contractors, engineers and quality inspectors, as well as USACE project managers and quality inspectors. In addition, all contractors and base organizations that are performing work are made aware of the opportunity to recycle ceilings very early during the design review process.

Drawing notes are added during the design stage, providing pertinent point-of-contact information. The program is then further emphasized during the pre-construction meetings. A walkthrough is performed by an environmental coordinator prior to the initiation of work to identify recyclable ceiling tiles. The logistics of the operation are planned, which is a vital step illustrating another key factor to the success of the program: flexibility. Each job site is unique, and the ability to adapt to each situation is essential. For instance, getting material from an upper floor to the ground floor in older, multi-story buildings can pose a problem if doorways are too narrow or elevators too small. If one believes in the cause, however, there is always a solution.

No Job Too Small
When it comes to recycling ceilings, the base’s Environmental Management Division does not turn any jobs away. It includes ceiling recycling in the specs for all large jobs, and the contractors know to include it in their bids. In the case of smaller jobs, a building’s manager usually calls with questions. The division then explains the process, and depending on the size of the job, base personnel may actually remove the old tiles.

The base’s objective is to remove as much as it can from the waste stream. As a result, it is continually evaluating avenues to cost-effectively divert solid waste from landfills, and recycling ceilings has provided it with an excellent opportunity to do just that.


David Dalton is Recycling Program Manager, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..